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10.05.2019 Feature Article

Electoral Democracy has failed in Africa. Here’s a Better Alternative:

Electoral Democracy has failed in Africa. Here’s a Better Alternative:

Africa appears to have largely succeeded in re-branding her image as a continent of dictators, to that of a young and thriving democracy. But has our experiment with democracy been beneficial to the welfare of the ordinary African? Has it been successful in advancing economic development and social progression for the millions of people who call this part of the world home?

To many Africans, democracy has become an end in itself, instead of serving as a vehicle to deliver social and economic development. This is hardly strange as we have designed a system which closely links political power with economic wealth. Our obsession with politics, instead of governance, is typified by how a new administration spends their 4 year mandate:

Year one: accuse the previous one of emptying the public purse and creating economic hardship. Unearth multiple corruption scandals, abolish policies, cancel contracts, and change leaders of public and quasi- public institutions (regardless of their performance). Put a new team together. Commence implementation of multiple incoherent policies and projects, many from scratch.

Year two: continue to blame the previous administration for economic hardship. Settle down and start enjoying power and the multiple benefits that come with it. Start prepping party faithful for another election victory (because there’s more excitement in elections than in governance).

Year three: [Administration fatigue begins to set in. Multiple campaign promises now empty shells. Politicians have largely abandoned their responsibilities and are now dedicated to maintaining or gaining more political power. There’s massive disappointment across the land – except for those who may have benefited directly from the ruling party] Start channeling energy towards winning the upcoming elections.

Year four: [Full blown election mode activated. The most important message by the incumbent: “Give us the mandate to continue” (continue what? No one knows exactly). The opposition party would have ‘monopolized’ the word ‘change’ (ironically the very word which may have formed the foundation of the incumbent’s electoral victory]. Create multiple avenues for more looting. Award hasty and bloated contracts, use national resources and spend millions to campaign for power. Lose or win. Repeat the cycle.

Meanwhile, throughout the four year mandate, the opposition party (so rightfully named) is solely dedicated to seeing the administration fail, for ‘good’ reason.

One of the biggest challenges we face on this continent is lack of strategic direction, owing to constant political upheavals. How does a nation ever develop when there is little to no sustainable national goals which survive political ‘musical chairs’? When the ballot box has become the most important national symbol due to its close association with economic emancipation for political party foot soldiers?

When will we wake up to the realization that elections are merely a means to better the lot of the nation, and not an end in itself? Could there be an alternative to the existing system which could potentially produce more positive outcomes for the state? I think so. Let’s call it ‘Duocracy’. But before I explain how it would work, let me highlight some key deficiencies of our existing ‘democratic system’.

First of all, it is not a democracy at all (at least not in a way a democracy is supposed to work). It is important to understand that apart from the moral and ethical responsibility, arising out of love (or some may call it patriotism) for the nation, which serves as an incentive for politicians to perform, a key pillar of democracy is the accountability exerted by the citizens’ power to remove non-performing parties from office – for as long as possible. Today, for many democracies across Africa, that critical incentive is largely eliminated due to the quasi two party democracy which has replaced the multi-party electoral system.

This is because, though many national constitutions allow for the formation of multiple political parties to challenge dominant ones, it is virtually impossible, due to the close link between political power and economic fortune. This means that only the dominant parties tend to have the financial leverage to run effective campaigns, a situation which has led to a rotational form of power where two parties are recycled every four or eight years. An alternative party may have the right set of people and ideas, but would fail to garner the necessary support to win a national election, owing largely to inadequate financial resources.

Also, the ‘recycling’ through the ballot comes at a massive cost to countries: financially and in many other areas. For many African countries, disputed elections often serve as the trigger for civil wars, which undo many of the progress made after some relative stability. This system could only be described as ”insane” (not my words but those of Albert Einstein who described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results). It is fair to say that without any serious change to this pattern, it might be impossible for Africa to develop, even in a hundred years.

Also, the available statistics indicate that just a few of the voting population actually participate in elections. For example, only 36.5% of the 84 million Nigerians who registered to vote turned out for their 2019 elections – a continuation of a trend which began in 2003. The turnout for Ghana’s General Elections in 2016 was merely 68.62% – and yet Ghana is touted as one of the more advanced democracies in Africa. I can’t think of a better evidence of the disillusionment many Africans now habour towards their politicians.

Now, here’s what I think is a better alternative (in its most simplistic form):

Two parties who are able to demonstrate their ability to amass maximum signatures from a verified database of citizens are given a rotational mandate to govern. After 8 years, the governing party steps aside for the other party to take over power for the next 8 years. General elections are then held to two select two parties to govern after the 16 year cycle.

At the core of this system is an inter-party ‘sustainable development’ body which sets policy direction and determines the allocation of at least 50 percent of national budgetary spending for long term policies, that run across the administrations of the political parties.

How then do we go about re-organizing the legislative arm of government? This is easier to accomplish with even higher representation and effectiveness. My proposal is to have each of the political parties choose one person from every constituency to represent them. The ruling party nominates someone to become the speaker. With this structure, parliamentarians can devote enough time to their core objective – legislation, and not be bogged down with overly tedious electoral processes.

Now, I know this might sound like a ridiculous idea (and it sure is) but just consider the massive benefits such a system could possibly provide:

The governing party has the freedom to devote all their resources to actual governance instead of political gimmicks.

There’s fair representation and no need to worry about the security implications of elections. Plus it comes with massive cost savings – both monetary and non-monetary.

This system promotes unity and bipartisanship and would facilitate a more strategic governance framework – which could impact positively on Africa’s socio-economic development. What do you think?

Kwadwo Agyapong Antwi
The writer blogs on social, political and economic issues at www.thinkingwityou.wordpress.com

Follow him on Twitter at kwadwo_aa

Kwadwo Agyapong Antwi
Kwadwo Agyapong Antwi, © 2019

This author has authored 19 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KwadwoAgyapongAntwi

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